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The Palace Chronicles series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

November 15th, 2014 (10:09 pm)
awake

Current Mood: awake
Current Song: Astronaut by Paris Carney

When kids and teachers ask me for a book that's a twist on the Cinderella story, I offer them Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix and the companion novel, Palace of Mirrors. These books are royally good, and I strongly recommend them to fans of Shannon Hale.

In Just Ella, we met 15-year-old Ella after the big ball we're all familiar with - but it turns out the story everyone has heard isn't exactly true. Instead of getting glass slippers from a fairy godmother, Ella won them in a wager with a glassblower. Instead of having a pumpkin transformed into a carriage, Ella got a ride from a kind (and human) coachman. Instead of relying on magic, Ella uses her brain and her bravery to make her dreams into reality.

When the book begins, Ella is already engaged to Prince Charming. But being a princess isn't all it is cracked up to be. Conversations with the prince prove that, although he's nice, he's really not for her. After learning more about the war that's taking place beyond the palace gates, Ella becomes even more disenchanted with her royal life and yearns to do something that will help those suffering. When she tries to break the engagement, evil steps in and Ella is physically removed to a dungeon.

But the villains should have known that even dungeon bars can't stop Ella. She must use the same smarts and determination that got her to that famous ball in the first place to get out and to help her country. Ella is a selfless, intelligent leading lady, and Just Ella is a very neat adaptation.

In Palace of Mirrors, we follow a 14-year-old peasant girl named Cecilia. Raised by Nanny and educated and protected by Sir Stephen, Cecilia likes the evening best of all, for that is when she has lessons - "And for me it's the moment that divides my day as hardworking, ragged peasant girl from my evening as secret princess poring over gilded texts." (Page 22) She goes on to say, "The studying is no easier than the chores, but it's more promising."

But Cecilia isn't the peasant girl she pretends to be. She's a princess. When she was little, her parents were murdered. Cecilia was whisked away and a decoy (Desmia) was put on the throne. Cecilia can't tell any of her friends about it, not even her life-long best friend Harper. Meanwhile, Desmia, the decoy, thinks she's the real princess.

Then Cecilia's village is threatened, and she decides to reclaim the throne. Enter 11 other girls and knights. Each and every one of these girls thinks SHE's the real princess - and so do their knights. Their stories are all the same, and each girl was given a royal object as proof of her royalty.

Like Ella, Cecilia isn't afraid to get dirty, to walk barefoot through sludge, to bloody her fingers when trying to get out of a locked room. She doesn't yearn for the power or the fame or the riches or the ballgowns; she wants to bring peace to the kingdoms and make her slain parents, her ancestors, and her beloved caretakers proud.

Who reigns supreme in the end? You'll have to read the books to find out.

Palace of Mirrors takes place in the same world as Just Ella, with Ella herself making an appearance. Spoilers: Highlight to view - [ Ella is now engaged to Jed, who is the head of the delegation trying to end the war between Suala and Fridesia. Harper's dad died in that war, and though Harper's mom trained him to play the harp, he really wants to be a soldier.) And guess who has been working for the past year as the medical officer in a refuge camp near "the worst battlefield of the Sualan War" and wants to become a doctor after the war is over... ]

The third book in the line, Palace of Lies, will be released in April 2015.

The takeaways:
Follow your own truth.
Find your truth in yourself, not in others.
Do what is right for you.

Word of the day:
Munificent - to be extremely generous or liberal
Ella uses this word to describe Desmia.